Text: Wooley // Photos: Matthew Jones
This article is worth your time. Because it’s not just about another guy with a weird little car… it’s about you. Except 50 years ago.
So let’s take it back 50-years, to 1966…
Jerry Peters was your typical middle-class teenager. But… he went to a filthy rich high school. And that made it kind of tough sometimes. Like something out of a pop-culture movie, the popular kids were driving Chevelle Super Sports, cherry Mustangs, Corvettes, etc.
And Jerry wasn’t.
So he did what any teenage guy would do before ‘Facebook rants’, and sat in the back of the class dreaming about sleepers. Affordable cars that he would build in his head… that were one day gonna whoop all these guy’s asses in front of their girlfriends. Sound familiar?
Well one day, he was walking to his after-school gig at Penny Burger. There was this tight series of dead-man’s-curves on the route. Jerry was on the sidewalk… shuffling along as usual. A GTO passed him by at a speed-limit pace. Nothing new.
And then all of nowhere, some unfamiliar boxy Euro ripped past Jerry at WOT. Fully committed, the little car dove under the big-bad GTO, laid it down, and then tracked-outta there. The power-heavy GTO tried to pull it together and pursue… but the fat lady was already singing at full pitch. There was no chance. WTF had just happened!? It was radical & comical all at the same time!!
Goosebumps were all over Jerry… and he couldn’t stop cheesing about the ambush he had just witnessed!!
As Jerry walked up to work, the mystery victory-car was sitting there in the parking lot. Turns out – it was a cream-colored 1965 Lotus Cortina. Definitely a little odd-ball in 1960’s suburbia America. But it had fight in it! The car’s owner was cool – too cool. And he talked to Jerry for a minute about European sports cars. Then he left, and Jerry never saw him or the car again.
That was 50 years ago this year.
As car guys, we all share some version of Jerry’s story. The backdrops & the cars at play are certainly different depending on time, place, and generation. But we’ve all metaphorically been the kid in class, or the kid in mom’s old station wagon, building tire-burners in our heads. We’ve all dreamed of when it would be our day. And somewhere in time, we’ve all stumbled on witnessing someone awesome doing something awesome with a car… and it’s scorched our memory. Hooked us. Inspired us. Became kind of the baseline for ‘cool’.
As car guys, we all share some version of Jerry’s story.
What was your moment?
The Cortina became one of the ultimate underestimated, pretty-boy’s muscle car slayers for teenager Jerry. But he always thought that Lotus was screwing up by not putting a V8 in the car. The automotive world was zeroing-in on the fact that big motors in small cars was a winning recipe. The Sunbeam Tiger had gotten a 289. And Lotus was such a motorsports-focused company… why did they never make a ‘Tiger’ version of the Cortina?? That was a 50-year-long unanswered question for Jerry. And 50 years later, he would finally have the opportunity to do what Lotus apparently never had the balls for.
Jerry grabbed this Cortina on a trade for Vanna White’s old 1980-something Bentley… don’t ask.
Finally – a proper Ford 289 V8 was to be the focal-point of the Lotus Cortina build. And Johnny Riddling was going to be the man to make it happen.
The entire front subframe was handmade in order to support the 289, and it was generally inspired from a Mustang II design. It’s using Wilwood 6-piston front brakes, that are able to clear period-correct 15-inch wheels… wrapped in sticky Toyo R888s.
The Ford 289 engine is stroked to a 347, making 508 horsepower in the 2,000-pound car. It runs an electric water pump and a smaller Toyota alternator – for stealthy mounting locations. The transmission is a modern T56 GM 6-speed, making for a very cool/crisp setup with the 289.
The Cortina has a Ford 9-inch rear end with super-cool inboard brakes, and a 373 gears. The 373 will soon be changed to a lower setup… since the car is running a 6th gear. The Ford rear end was 6-inches too wide for the narrow Cortina, so it was cut down, and half-shafts were made to the correct length.
Inside, the car has a custom rollcage that is tucked tightly in tight to the body, and ties the front & rear together underneath. The car has custom Ford GT40 gauges with a 200mph speedo that was modified to work via GPS (since the original gauge would not work with the modern transmission). The car has a drop-down pedal setup from a 1960’s era F1 car, which is now mounted to the roll bar under the dash. There is a front/rear brake-bias dial on the dash. And there are 2 spares mounted rally-style in the rear… with a Frosty Root Beer cooler in-between the spares. A drain tube runs from the cooler, behind the rear tires, so that the tires don’t get wet… things you’ve gotta think through.
The twin exhaust goes through the frame, and exits at the sides of the vehicle. This way, you can still see the inboard brakes from behind the vehicle. The hood has an vacuum-actuated scoop. The fuel cell is hidden inside of an old steamer trunk, painted with the Union Jack by Micah. The battery box was fabricated from a vintage metal gas can.
The exterior is ‘sleeper’ all the way, with not much more than fresh paint, sticky tires, a subtly custom-cut front bumper, Jag headlights, and LED lighting in the original Lotus ‘ban the bomb’ (peace-symbol) tail lights.